California Legislature Plans To Regulate … Babysitting

A new bill sailing through the California legislature will require parents to provide babysitter’s workers’ comp benefits, rest and meal breaks and paid vacation time.

Assembly Bill 889 is sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, and will require these protections for all ”domestic employees,” including nannies, housekeepers and caregivers:

Under AB 889, household ”employers” (aka ”parents”) who hire a babysitter on a Friday night will be legally obligated to pay at least minimum wage to any sitter over the age of 18 (unless it is a family member), provide a substitute caregiver every two hours to cover rest and meal breaks, in addition to workers’ compensation coverage, overtime pay, and a meticulously calculated timecard/paycheck.

Failure to abide by any of these provisions may result in a legal cause of action against the employer including cumulative penalties, attorneys’ fees, legal costs and expenses associated with hiring expert witnesses, an unprecedented measure of legal recourse provided no other class of workers from agricultural laborers to garment manufacturers. (On the bright side, language requiring an hour of paid vacation time for every 30 hours worked was amended out of the bill in the Senate.)

Speaking as a stay-at-home mother who hires babysitters, my response is unprintable but could be shortened to “Are you kidding me?” Just how would you handle breaks every two hours? And I’m a former nanny and babysitter. I know not to over-extend the wonderful women and men who help my husband me. But I seriously don’t understand how these meal and rest breaks would work, never mind the workers comp stuff. Are there no women or men in the California legislature who have ever dealt with either a real income or the real constraints of securing child care? It is difficult enough to secure quality childcare without having to come up with some bizarre plan whereby said caregivers get a break every two hours. It’s insane. Mothers themselves don’t take “breaks” every two hours (or 24 hours, sometimes) and women actually understand how to manage this enterprise without overburdening their assistants.

My difficulties managing self-employment are big enough, and the net money I make after hiring a sitter to allow me to go report a story are so meager, that if I lived in California, I could imagine not working and not hiring a babysitter. Fact is that this bill, if passed, would likely hurt low-income wage earners the most — or force more of this work into the black market where treatment and conditions risk greater problems.

I don’t know if this bill is being pushed by institutionalized care services or what, but it would be nice if the California legislature would think about some of the unintended consequences of this bill.

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